The Predynastic of Egypt, spanning an interval from ca. 4000 to 3050 B.C., was an eventful period. After the inception of food production in the Nile Valley at least a millennium before, it was the time when the identity of Egyptian society was forged. Egypt was settled by refugees from the deserts of the eastern Sahara and the southern Levant, fleeing from mid-Holocene droughts, and became a melting pot of indigenous Nilotes and desert herders, part-time cultivators, and hunters. Within a millennium, an increasing dependence on agriculture led to sedentary life and, in some cases, to the development of sizable communities. By 4000 B.C., the settled communities had also developed a distinct division of labor between men and women and ritual and religious beliefs in which women, grain, fertility, and death were salient and interrelated elements. The Predynastic communities were also faced by the most destabilizing factor of agricultural economy, namely, fluctuations of yield. Attempts to dampen the fluctuations through interregional integration led to the emergence of community representatives and eventually chiefs. Legitimation of the status of chiefs through affiliation with the traditional and supernatural power associated with women, fertility, and death and the acquisition of exotic goods stimulated trade and an industry in funerary goods. Enlargement of economic units through alliances, with occasional incidences of fighting, especially after 3600 B.C., led to the rise of a state society governed by supreme rulers. The wedding of the funerary cult of Late Predynastic Egypt with political power and military might was the basis for the most fascinating aspects of Ancient Egypt—religion and kingship.
Key WordsNeolithic Predynastic North Africa Egypt Nile Valley origins of state civilization
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